BlackPink and BTS do not define Korean music, according to experts

There are many famous global K-pop stars in recent years, most notably BTS and BlackPink. According to SCMP, international fans think that the Korean market only trains idol groups to sing pop music, while hip-hop and ballad songs of soloists are equally influential in Korea.

Dal Yong Jin – Director of the Department of Digital Technology and Transnational Cultures at Simon Fraser University in Canada – said: “Domestic (Korean) listeners love rock ballads, R&B, and trot music. In particular, trot is a genre that has been popular since the 1990s, known for its distinct rhythm and singing style.: He said that Koreans like to listen to ballads the most because it best reflects their daily lives.

The picture of Korean music

According to Gaon Music Chart, songs by artists/groups (non-pop singers) that rank first place or high positions on the charts, are listed in the list of most downloaded and streamed songs in Korea of 2021. 

IU‘s Celebrity topped the list of most streamed songs, followed by Rollin’ (Brave Girls), Dynamite (BTS), Lilac (IU) and Next Level (aespa). As for the most downloaded songs, trot singer Lim Young Woong‘s My Starry Love and Love Always Run Away came in 1st and 2nd place, followed by Kang Daniel‘s Antidote and Paranoia and Butter (BTS).

Define Korean music
IU’s feminine and dreamy image in Celebrity. 

In early 2022, hip-hop took the throne on Korea’s biggest streaming platform Melon thanks to the popularity of the TV show Show Me the Money. The rappers in the show perform hip-hop songs in their own charming way, making this genre hot again. According to Dal Yong Jin, hip-hop has gone through a period of upheaval over the decades, and it is undeniable that it is this genre that created the foundation for popular music in Korea.

Define Korean music

He shared, “Ever since Seo Taiji and Boys performed hip-hop in the mid-1990s, vibrant music has greatly influenced the Korean music industry. In fact, hip-hop is the top genre in Korea.” Yong Jin commented, “Idol groups borrow hip-hop melodies to reflect on issues in contemporary society such as education, work, life and see it as a means of communicating with young fans. BTS and Stray Kids did a great job on this.”

TV shows dedicated to hip-hop, ballad and trot genres are very popular in the Korean market. According to SCMP, Miss Trot and Mr. Trot attract big commercial contracts as programs to discover talents in the world of trot music, for example Lim Young Woong.

The boy with curly hair and bright smile Lee Mujin became famous after enrolling in Sing Again (2020). It is a program that focuses on forgotten talents or those who have not had a chance to debut yet. Dal Yong Jin said that music shows that emphasize ballad and trot are more popular in Korea than pop.

Talent playgrounds for rockers have also emerged in recent years. The return of rock legends has made this genre’s immortal hits once again bombard music charts.

Not to mention, the market for dancers is just as vibrant. Street Woman Fighter, a dance competition program launched in 2021, has discovered talented young dancers for the entertainment industry. Thanks to Street Woman Fighter, female dancer Noze became an “IT girl” that indicates a trending star in Korea.

Define Korean music

Why is pop music still dominant in Korea?

In an interview with SCMP, music journalist Joshua Minsoo Kim – who runs the Tone Glow newsletter about experimental music and writes for outlets such as Billboard and Pitchfork – said that songs that distinctly relay the daily Korean existence don’t resonate significantly with international audiences, and don’t get pushed in the same way that K-pop idol music does.

Kim stated: “Idol music has astronomically more money behind it than any other music in Korea. It’s also far more accessible, both in terms of music discovery and appeal, than others.”  Famous K-pop idol acts are seldom constrained by genre due to the various preferences of Korean music listeners: songs, and often entire albums, hop between a variety of musical styles, with acts typically adept at performing both poignant ballads and hard-hitting dance tracks fuelled by raps. Some even try their hand at trot.

Define Korean music
BlackPink’s music products are a harmonious combination of pop, hip-hop, EDM, trap.

The diverse musical scene allows artists to unleash their creativity, regardless of genre. And it’s fair to say, the strong rise of pop domestically and internationally has helped spur all other genres to develop, creating competition on the charts.

Joshua Minsoo Kim pointed out that at the moment, singers, rappers, indie and underground artists are not out of the trend of experimenting with new genres of music. Their purpose is to follow the audience’s tastes, and from there, they will be loved more and the salary will increase gradually.

Define Korean music

“I don’t think the lack of other music being pushed is a necessarily bad thing,” Minsoo Kim says. “A lot of forward-thinking music can thrive when not beholden to industry pressures. To be ‘small’ in music isn’t a bad thing and in some cases can be healthy.”

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